If You See Shoes on a Power Line, This Is What It Means

Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a chain? No, wait — it's a pair of shoes on a power line. But what are they doing there?

Shoes on power lines aren’t something you see every day. But like colorful beads on trees, it seems that wherever you see one, you’re likely to see many. While there’s some consensus about what those beads mean, there’s much disagreement over what shoes on a power line actually mean.

Retired police sergeant Rob Demarco, who spent 20 years on the force in Eastchester, New York, has a theory: Most were flung there simply because there were already other shoes on the power line.

So unlike colored balls on power lines, metal wrapped around a tree and the occasional painted purple fence post — all of which serve specific purposes — the shoes you see hanging from power lines may be random. But Demarco’s theory doesn’t necessarily account for that first pair. How did it get there? And why?

Why Do People Throw Shoes on Power Lines?

It’s one of those things you probably never thought about, but people have been chucking their shoes as a form of personal expression since before power lines, let alone electrical power, even existed.

There was an old English wedding custom of throwing shoes at a newly married couple. Some say it brought the newlyweds happiness and good fortune.

There’s also a long-standing military tradition of flinging one’s boots to symbolize the end of one’s post. Space pioneers Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin tossed their moon boots from the hatch of their lunar module before returning to Earth, though reportedly to compensate for the weight of moon rocks they brought back to Earth.

While these traditions suggest shoes on power lines may serve a celebratory purpose, there are plenty of other theories for them — not all expressions of mirth. Some even involve purported criminal activity.

Gang Activity

One of the more popular theories claims the hanging shoes help gangs mark their territory. The problem with this theory is the dearth of gang members willing to corroborate it. Moreover, when we queried police departments in various large cities around the country, none were willing to confirm or deny.

Location for Buying Drugs

According to a police chief from Prichard, Alabama, and members of the Jackson, Mississippi City Council, some drug dealers communicate that they’re open for business by tossing a pair of shoes over a power line.

On the other hand, a spokesperson for the New York Police Department (NYPD) told the New York Times, “I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that people advertise by leaving a sign.” And a police chief from Toronto has publicly debunked the theory as an urban legend.


If you see a license plate with a gold star, the car probably carries family members of a member of the military killed in action. Similarly, shoes hanging from a power line could be a memorial to someone who has died.

As one Brooklyn resident pointed out in a YouTube series he calls “Decoding the Streets,” the shoes symbolize the deceased individual is now “walking in heaven.” Some say these types of memorials are often for people who died from gun violence.

Celebrating Milestones

Some soldiers have been known to throw pair of combat boots over a power line to celebrate the end of their post. Some graduating high school seniors like to do to celebrate that milestone.

Similarly, one Redditor recalls gleefully throwing gym shoes onto wires to mark the end of the school year. Fast Company points out that some toss their shoes over power lines to celebrate the loss of their virginity.


Demarco says in some neighborhoods, the shoes can be evidence of bullying. Specifically, it may mean a bully or pack of bullies stripped a vulnerable child of their shoes, then tossed them over a power line to admire like a trophy.

Or, as one Facebook user explains, “When someone comes along and punches you and steals your $200 skate shoes, they throw their old ones on to the power lines.”

Kids Being kids

Along the lines of Demarco’s leading theory, a dangling pair of shoes may signify nothing more than silliness — kids being kids, perhaps challenging their friends to see who’s strong enough to accomplish this feat with the fewest attempts. Of course, this practice isn’t necessarily limited to children.

Street Art

It’s also been likened to the work of graffiti artists. Indeed, it’s sometimes referred to as “shoefiti.” And a crowdsourced art installation seems as good a reason as any for flinging one’s shoes over a power line.

Indeed, the artist Ad Skewville and his brother etched shoe images onto shoe-shaped pieces of wood, then flung them by the pair over power lines all over Brooklyn, New York, as well as other locations in New York City, London and South Africa.


According to Demarco, one tends to see fewer instances of power lines heavy with hanging shoes in affluent neighborhoods than more economically diverse urban settings. It’s not clear why.

Conversely, an urban setting that’s neither well-maintained nor adequately patrolled by law enforcement might inspire some to hurl their shoes over local power lines as a “cry for help” to local politicians.

How Common Are Shoes on Power Lines?

Apparently, the more highly populated an area, the more shoes you’ll see on power lines. It remains unclear which cities are most affected and to what degree. Our research did, however, turn up reports of local legislators addressing this practice.

Jackson, Mississippi, considered passing an ordinance in 2021 giving the city’s Public Works department the authority to remove the shoes if a resident called 311 to report it. Similar ordinances were considered in Long Beach, California, in 2010, and Wilmington, North Carolina, in 2014.

Is it Illegal to Throw Shoes on Power Lines?

Is it illegal to throw an empty soda bottle or other trash onto the street in your town? If so, then it’s probably illegal to throw a pair of shoes over a power line.

According to a spokesman for the NYPD, shoe tossing could be considered criminal mischief by New York law. Other states may have similar statutes. Those that don’t may consider it the same as littering.

According to Arizona’s Salwin Law Group, “Many people are not aware that littering, even a small amount, is actually a crime in Arizona.”

Based on Section 13-1603 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, throwing one’s shoes over a power line could be considered a Class 2 misdemeanor in certain circumstances. Uniform vandalism laws may also prohibit the practice.

Is it Dangerous to Throw Shoes on Power Lines?

Yes. North Carolina’s Duke Energy specifically warns its customers not to do it. “This can cause short circuits, and could result in injuries,” the utility says.

Who Removes All the Shoes From Power Lines?

It depends upon the locale. In some municipalities, the companies maintaining the lines may be responsible for removing dangling shoes. But one thing is clear across the board: Unless you’re trained to work with high voltage, don’t try to pull the shoes down yourself.

Does This Only Happen In The U.S.?

No. Australia is considered a hotbed for errant shoe tossing, according to the Daily Mail. And the practice is at least fairly common in the United Kingdom and Spain.

Apparently, it’s not a problem in the Netherlands, which doesn’t have nearly as many overhead power lines as some other countries. Shoes do get tossed there, though the targets tend to be trees.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly in The Huffington Post as well as a variety of other publications since 2008 on such topics as life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. She is also a writer of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.